Report: E.U. Ports Need More Coordinated Planning
The European Court of Auditors has released a report saying that port development strategies in the E.U. suffer from sustainability issues.
Special report No 23/2016: Maritime transport in the EU: in troubled waters — much ineffective and unsustainable investment states that “port development strategies put in place by the Member States and the Commission did not provide enough information to allow effective capacity planning to be carried out. This had led to E.U. co-financed investments in port infrastructure being ineffective and unsustainable, with a high risk of around 400 million euros invested being wasted. “Road and rail connections to port hinterlands were often missing or inadequate, meaning that further public funding will be needed to make the initial port investments work well.”
The report also states that the Commission had not taken the necessary action in the area of state aid and customs procedures to allow ports to compete on a level playing field.
Ports are economically very important in the E.U. There are more than 1,200 commercial seaports in 23 of the E.U.’s 28 member states. They handle around three quarters of the E.U.’s cargo trade with non-member countries and more than a third of intra-E.U. freight transport.
Liquid bulk accounted for 37 percent of all cargo passing through E.U. seaports in 2014, followed by dry bulk (23 percent) and containers (21 percent). Additionally, there are around 400 million passengers per year using these ports.
The report makes the following recommendations:
• Put in place a monitoring of core port capacity, taking account of the Member States’ plans for implementing their long-term strategies;
• Revise the current number of 104 core ports which are necessary to maintain an adequate level of accessibility for the E.U. as a whole;
• Set out an E.U.-wide port development plan for core ports, maritime waterways and canals;
• Work with the Member States to reduce the administrative burden and delays in project selection and implementation by promoting the principle of a national one-stop-shop for the issuing, or refusal, of all permits and authorisations for port infrastructure-related investments. A tacit agreement principle (e.g. of two years) should be implemented as soon as possible;
• Strictly apply the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Common Provisions Regulation and the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Regulation on financial corrections due to under-performing investments for the 2014-2020 period;
• Assess the possibility of excluding E.U. funding for port infrastructure for container transhipment and storage (e.g. construction of quays, docks and storage capacities) during the 2014-2020 period. In addition, superstructures which are not within the public remit should be excluded from E.U. funding, as these should be considered a commercial environment;
• Prioritise E.U. co-financing from both CEF and ESIF spending to core ports to improve their connections to their hinterlands;
• Fund port infrastructures other than connections to hinterlands only on the condition that there is a clearly established need, where E.U. added value is demonstrated and where there is a sufficiently large private investment component secured in the overall investment envelope;
• Ensure that all necessary loan information on proposed European Investment Bank (EIB) loans is shared between the EIB and the Commission to facilitate robust assessments;
• Internally clarify, and consistently implement, the procedure for determining whether critical remarks should lead to a negative opinion on a proposed EIB loan;
• Issue state aid guidelines for seaports;
• Ensure consistency in the treatment of user-specific port superstructures;
• Increase the number of desk-based state aid investigations on ports and follow-up of earlier state aid decisions to ensure that the conditions present at the outset remain;
• Member States should systematically notify the Commission of all public financial support to ports in accordance with E.U. state aid rules;
• Ask Member States to periodically provide specific information on the type and number of customs procedures at individual core ports in order to assess whether ports are being treated equally;
• Improve the competitive position of maritime transport compared to other transport modes by further simplifying maritime transport and customs formalities, in particular by moving towards an E.U. “single window.”
The report is available here.